Cantor amasses cash for re-election bid

Forget David and Goliath. In the money race in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, it’s Wayne and Eric.

Democrat Wayne Powell is challenging incumbent Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the U.S. House. From a campaign- finance standpoint, it’s not much of a contest: Cantor has 58 times more money on hand than Powell does.

Cantor, who has represented the Richmond-area district since 2001, has more than $2.2 million cash on hand. That’s far more than any other candidate for the U.S. House in Virginia. It’s almost as much as the state’s 18 Democratic congressional candidates hold collectively. (They have a combined $2.5 million.) And that’s just the cash on hand.

During the 2011-12 election cycle, Cantor’s receipts have totaled $5.1 million.

Only three House candidates – all of them Republican incumbents – have raised more money than Cantor: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio (nearly $15 million); Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (about the same, which also funded her presidential bid); and Rep. Allen West of Florida (nearly $8 million).

Powell has raised only $66,000 so far.

Powell, a Midlothian lawyer who calls himself a progressive Democrat, has about $38,000 on hand. That could put him at a distinct disadvantage against Cantor’s deep pockets.

In an election year when the top of the ticket – the presidential race – could be close, money will play a large role in elections, according to Joseph Bafumi, a government professor at Dartmouth College.

“Money is very important … If there were a strong tide going towards the Democratic ticket, that would give Powell a better shot – that or if Cantor were to be embroiled in some enormous scandal. However, looking at this election, it looks like it will be a very likely victory for Cantor,” Bafumi said.

Bafumi said some candidates who have lost the fundraising battle have managed to win election, but that tends to happen when other factors are in play.

In 2006, for example, public disapproval of the Iraq war helped elect a Democratic majority in Congress, and in 2010, the tea party movement helped Republicans recapture the House.

This year, Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low – 17percent, according to the Gallup Poll. The state of the economy will play a key role in November’s elections, Bafumi said. The success of the Democratic ticket depends a lot on what President Obama does between now and then.

“It’s tight now, and a lot depends on the economy … If it improves, it could improve Obama’s curtails,” Bafumi said.

In April, Democrats in the 7th District nominated Powell, a retired Army colonel, to take on Cantor. Before getting his party’s blessing, Powell said he expected his nomination to open the doors for more fundraising.

“Money is an issue in every campaign,” Powell said. “By June or July, I expect to have substantially more money – in excess of a million dollars with promises for more.”

It is unclear how Powell’s fundraising has fared since he got the nomination. The campaign finance reports on the Federal Elections Commission’s website are current through March.

As of March 31, Powell had received about 560 itemized individual donations totaling $37,000. (On his FEC filings, he listed contributions as small as $1.)

Cantor reported more than 2,000 itemized individual contributions totaling $2.6 million from nearly 1,500 individuals.

About 74 percent of Cantor’s individual donations have come from outside Virginia, according to an analysis of FEC data by Capital News Service. For Powell, the figure is 30 percent.

Cantor and Powell’s contributions differ in another significant way – funding from political action committees.

Powell has received only $600 in PAC contributions – 1 percent of his total contributions.

By contrast, Cantor has received 634 contributions from PACs, totaling $1.7 million – one-third of his war chest. Forty-three PACs have given the maximum $10,000 to Cantor’s congressional campaign. They included the committees for Altria, Anheuser-Busch and Comcast. Cantor also received big donations from the PACs representing the National Rifle Association, News America/Fox and various financial and health-care interests.

Cantor’s fundraising has grown since his initial run for the House a dozen years ago.

In 2002, Cantor raised just over $1 million. That number has increased every election since; for the 2009-10 election cycle, he raised nearly $6 million. (His main Democratic challenger then, Rick Waugh, raised less than $150,000.)

The five industry sectors that have donated the most to Cantor are finance, real estate, insurance, pharmaceuticals and health, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks campaign finance.

Bafumi said the better-funded candidate doesn’t always win. In 2008, Democratic challenger Tom Perriello beat Republican incumbent Virgil Goode in Virginia’s 5th District, with each campaign having raised about the same amount of money – $1.8 million.

Two years later, Perriello lost to GOP nominee Robert Hurt, even though Hurt raised about $1.2 million less than Perriello. Bafumi said campaign funding helps candidates reach voters. More money can mean a larger campaign staff, more television commercials, more mailings to voters and other strategies to win on Election Day.
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